My first Disney experience was bad. I was six years old, curled up on the couch with my family watching Bambi. We were a few minutes into the movie and suddenly there was a bang. Bambi’s mom had disappeared. I cried. A lot.
Fast-forward to 2019, and there I am again watching Bambi with my kids. The titles went up and I found myself cringing, when suddenly something occurred to me.Not only am I watching this movie again, but—despite my original Bambi-induced trauma—I have always been obsessed with Disney, and now all four of my kids love it too. And it’s not just our family.
Disney World, Florida, is the most visited theme park in the world with an average of 20 million visitors each year. And the Disney empire itself? You can usually find it gracing the Forbes top 10 list of the world’s most valuable brands. For better or worse (probably worse for those of us on our umpteenth viewing of Frozen), Disney has succeeded in making itself part of every home in the US across multiple generations. And as an entrepreneur, I had to know: What is so darn special about Disney?
How does Disney do it?
That's the million-dollar question.
And Bruce Jones, senior programming director at Disney, claims to have the answer. According to Bruce, it’s all about the customer experience.
“We’ve been striving to perfect our customer experience over the many decades since Walt Disney founded the company—attempting to do things so well that our guests want to come back and see us do it again and again,” he said in an article for the Harvard Business Review.
I know what you’re thinking: If it were really that simple, wouldn’t every business be vying for a spot on the Forbes top 10 list? Probably.
But not every business has perfected the principles of Disney’s signature customer experience. So, get ready to book your next trip to “the most magical place on earth.” Because, as experts like Jones claim, there are just three basic principles that make Disney stand out from the crowd—and you can easily adapt them for the success of your ECE business.
“Of all the things I've done, the most vital is coordinating those who work with me and aiming their efforts at a certain goal.”—Walt Disney
Right from the outset, Disney knew the key to success: make sure your team works as a team.
And that philosophy has continued to be a vital part of Disney’s success to this very day. When it comes to great customer experience, the company’s essential foundation is to have a strong “common purpose.” Then, it's about making sure the entire team knows it and believes in it.“ A common purpose is a succinct explanation of what you want the customer experience to be at the emotional level. It represents to all employees what you stand for and why you exist, and it is the primary tool for getting everyone “on the same page,” said Bruce.
Here's Disney's latest common purpose statement:
“We create happiness by providing the best in entertainment for people of all ages everywhere.”
Simple, right? When it comes to ECE providers, many will argue that it's just not that easy. But at its core, a “common purpose” is simply about making sure the whole team understands the customer's needs, wants, and expectations, and reiterating that mission at every opportunity so that everyone on the team is pulling in the same direction, 100% of the time.
"You're the best thing I never knew I needed."—The Princess and the Frog
When we go to Disney World, there’s one thing my kids want more than anything: mouse ears. Sound familiar?
Disney knows kids love Mickey Mouse ears so much that they’ve built their brand around it. Whether your ECE philosophy is all about play-based learning, child-led development, or creating a caring community—knowing what your families want and showing them that you can give it to them in a way no other brand can is the key to long-term success. And whether it’s using apps to connect with millennial parents or offering a centralized child care management system to franchisees struggling to balance teaching with admin — responding to those needs is good business 101. As Bruce puts it, “Truly understanding their needs, wants, and expectations is key to creating personalized interactions.”
"Venture outside your comfort zone. The rewards are worth it."—Rapunzel (Tangled)
Admin duties, communications, reporting, finances, employee training… an ECE provider's to-do list can feel never-ending. And too often, customer service is relegated to the bottom of the pile—both when it comes to time and funding. But I’m going to let you in on a little secret…Disney does it differently.
One of their key principles is to view exceptional customer service as an economic asset, and to make sure it sits firmly at the top of every list.
“The return on investment associated with lifetime customer relationships often justifies the short-term costs associated with designing and delivering exceptional service experiences,” says Jones. The moral of the story? To retain lifetime customers and position your ECE brand at the top, take a page out of Disney’s book and prioritize customer experience. Your parents (and children!) will never forget it.